For months, the accumulation of snow in my corner of Montana was like an abstraction. Inches became feet that grew to yards. I vaguely understood that our 100-plus inches of snow would someday melt, but for much of our endless winter, a thaw seemed distant and unreal. Then the earth turned on its axis and we wobbled closer to the sun. Average daily temperatures inched upward and before you knew it, we had ourselves a melt, slow at first but slowly our streams and rivers rose.
Then, last week, reality intruded. The Milk River roared, filling its channel, then spilling out, an apron of icy water finding historic channels and edging closer to my house in the river valley.
It was time to get busy, and thanks to our county, which provided sandbags to flood-prone homeowners, we had both the motive and the means to protect our home. Now, all I needed was some assistance.
Luckily, I have a trio of great kids who were–at first, anyway–only too eager to help fill sandbags. Here, Iris and Ellis team up to fill a burlap bag with heavy, wet sand.
Iris turned out to be a great bag holder, while Ellis handled the scooping duties with grace and strength.
Together, we filled the bed of my old Toyota so full with 80-pound sandbags that the bed compressed on its springs and actually bore on the frame.
Ellis got some healthy respect for the heft of a full sandbag.
Finally, we had a load ready, and I decided to deliver the Toyota’s content to home and return to the sandlot with my ½-ton Chevy.
Meanwhile, the filling continued. Like a bucket brigade, there’s an efficiency to filling sandbags. Everyone has a job, either holding a bag…
Or filling a series of bags…
Or topping off a collection of bags…
Or preparing the next bag for loading…
Filling 75 sandbags in under an hour is like a jail-yard workout. You work on your back, shoulders, arms, legs. You do this enough and you’ll be tough and durable as the burlap that holds our two tons of sand.
But that’s a lot to ask of a pair of 10-year-olds and a 7-year-old. So, after we filled the bags, I cut the kids loose to do what they had been asking about: Climbing the mountain of sand.
They had earned the allowance to check out the view from the top.
Then it was home to put the filled sandbags to use. Our house if far enough away from the Milk River that I think we’ll avoid the main flood. But I worry about pooling water around the house, especially the basement window casements. So that’s where the bags are stacked, to provide a little insurance in case the water rises faster and higher than we expect.

Right now Hunting Editor, Andrew McKean, is stranded in his home in Montana by rising flood waters. Here’s part 1 of his first-hand survival story.